Challenging narratives – new ANVIL journal on autoethnography

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Saturday 21 March is World Poetry Day. An event  that may have just passed you by amidst the extraordinary place we find ourselves in at the moment. Yet poetry, perhaps more than any other literary form, offers something that nurtures the soul as well as challenging  the way we see the world.

For many of us it is the Psalms and the poetry of prophets like Isaiah that we turn to in order to give voice to the range and depth of our own emotions and to express from the heart the things for which our minds cannot find voice. The Psalms in particular seem capable of expressing profound joy and hope and almost inexpressible rage or despair, sometimes in the same psalm. Words that offer comfort and discomfort, at times without the censoring of speech that we might otherwise place on religious language.

Those of you who have been following the CMS Lent material will be familiar with Cathy Ross’s exploration of the theme of lament; an expression of faith which perhaps speaks to some of us now more than any other. If you take a look at this new issue of Anvil you will find that it also has a poetic theme to it. It explores autoethnography, the art of writing out of our own experience in a way that enables us to explore wider cultural themes. It is a great tool for theological reflection and Heather Walton, a leading exponent of that, provides an insightful introduction to the subject.

Autoethnography is not limited to prose, it can equally be performed or articulated though poetry. This is well illustrated in this edition with some challenging and evocative poems by Ruth Wells, Cathy Ross and Luke Larner. The edition also includes thick description of personal stories and reflections by a couple of our MA cohort, developed during a course in Anthropology and Christian Mission. They are well worth a read. They cover such topics as a day at the beach in Cornwall, memories of mortadella sandwiches eaten on a train journey and the story of Mrs Church Lady.

The challenge of Covid-19 is global and its effects continue to be devastating. But if the great poets of scripture remind us of anything in times such as this, even in the most difficult of places that many find themselves in, we are people of hope. “Hope in God; for I shall yet praise him, my help and my God” (Psalm 42:5).

Meanwhile, if the changes to all our lives mean that you have more time at home than you were anticipating and are wondering how best to make use of that, you might consider doing a module online at CMS. There are options from simply auditing a class to taking on a course in Theology, Mission and Ministry at certificate, diploma, degree and Masters level.

The current situation means everything next term has to be taught on line so if you would like to sign up of a course, or audit one at a reduced rate, then please contact Helen Harwood at CMS.

In the meantime take care and stay safe.

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